A rainshower broke overhead as the Sarasota City Commission sat down for its annual briefing on stormwater Wednesday afternoon. It costs nearly $12 million a year to deal with all the stormwater, but the city pays only $2.1 million of that.
Sarasota County has reponsiblity for a majority of the tab, because stormwater is not limited to the city. The ultimate destination of most stormwater is Sarasota Bay, even water falling far inland.
Years ago the county took responsibility, signing an interlocal agreement with the city. But unlike other interlocal agreements, this one has no fixed expiration date. It only expires when all bonds are paid, and before that ever happened, new bonds were sold to pay for additional projects.
Everybody has a stormwater complaint, but over the years many of those complaints received attention. Long-timers know of the inevitable flooding at St. Armands Circle, but newcomers have never experienced it. Shade Avenue between Prospect and Waldemere was once a major problem, but no longer.
In addition to moving the water off the streets and property, the quality of stormwater going into the bay is another issue. The county is addressing both, as their annual report examined.
Jim Oppy is the county’s field services manager for stormwater, the hands-on guy. “We have 19.25 miles of canals in the city,” he said. “We clear 27 miles annually,” meaning some canals get cleaned more than once per year.
He acknowledged there are “ten hot spots in the city where the pipe is not adequately sized. The downstream pipes especially.” That’s where Spencer Anderson steps in, the director of capital improvements.
“Some of our stormwater projects don’t directly impact the city,” he said. “For example, our work at the Celery Fields [on Fruitville Road, east of I-75] is regional. It retains water from the county so it just doesn’t rush into the city.”
However not all the hot spots find easy solutions. Anderson said problems around Pelican Drive — the area south of Charles Ringling Boulevard, west of Shade Avenue and north of the Seaboard Coastline railroad tracks — await a resolution. “We are unable to identify a cost-effective solution, and we’ve put that project on hold,” Anderson said. “We need to move that bubble of flooding to another piece of land.”
Ron Burks’ development on School Avenue has a retention pond in its plans, and the future of the Ringling Shopping Center is uncertain after Publix moves its grocery to Wood Street and the Tamiami Trail next month.
Anderson also does rehabilitation, replacing collapsed pipes for example. In April several hundred feet of pipe were replaced on South Shade, just beyond the city limits. Two areas coming under scrutiny are the Gillespie Park area in the southern part of the city “where 7,000 feet of pipe may need replacement.” Another 7,000 feet in the downtown area is under examination, at a cost of $1 million. The closer to the bay, the larger the pipe size, as all that water seeks sea level.
“We’re looking at about $6 million in improvements in the city in the next three-to-five years,” said Anderson. One project that will start next year the the ditch north of Brother Geenan Way, just across the street from the Senior Friendship Center complex. A large pipe will be laid in the deep ditch, and filled in to eliminate a serious road hazard.
Kelly Westover is a county water quality specialist, and spoke of the other side of the stormwater issue — water quality. As Sarasota’s growth skyrocketed in the middle of the last century, water quality in the bay collapsed. Sentinal species like bay scallops vanished along with seagrasses.
While a state-of-the-art sewer plant choked off the bulk of pollutants, stormwater continues to run unabated into the bay. The county is working on “low-impact development” measures and changing management practices to further reduce pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorus.
“At Hudson Bayou we’re looking a ways to treat stormwater before it enters the bayou,” she said. “Pervious parking on Ringing [east to Lime Ave] and bioswales are two ideas we’re considering.”
That brought a rare response from the city commission. Commissioner Shannon Snyder said he recalled an experiment with pervious parking — which lets rain seep into the ground instead of mixing with automobile engine drips in asphalt parking lots – was less than successful.
City Manager Bob Bartolotta said efforts at pervious parking at Marina Jacks were very successful, but Bird Key Park was “less successful.” Snyder said pervious parking along Charles Ringling Boulevard “needs more discussion.”
In contrast to the over another interlocal agreement on parks maintenance, this discussion was non-confrontational. Outside city hall, more stormwater headed for the bay.